Peatlands of Continental North America

  • Dale H. Vitt
Living reference work entry


The boreal zone of North America is a mosaic of peatlands, lakes, and upland forests all adapted to exist in a climate characterized by long, cold winters and short, cool summers. Precipitation falls mostly as snow in the winter and through localized thunderstorms during the summer. Peatlands, consisting of minerogenous fens and ombrogenous bogs, are an important sink of both carbon and nitrogen, and in boreal western Canada occupy from 30 % to 40 % of provincial landscapes. Two of the world’s largest wetlands occur in continental North America, both dominated by bogs and fens. The Hudson Bay Lowland in Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba is the second largest peatland area in the world, while the peatlands of the Mackenzie River watershed in Alberta, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon are generally considered the third largest peatland complex. It is estimated that the USA and Canada together have about 1.86 million km2 of peatland area most of which is located in the boreal zone with a continental climate. This is about 40–45 % of the world’s 4 million km2 of peatland. Peat is the undecomposed remains of organic matter. In boreal peatlands, cold anaerobic conditions allow deep deposits (2–5 m) of peat to develop over thousands of years. These deposits hold large stores of both carbon and nitrogen, estimated at about 33 % of the global soil carbon and 10 % of the world’s soil nitrogen. Peat deposits are formed in place and hold a permanent, long-term record of the development of individual peatlands and can form significant proxies for past climate.


Significant Proxy Boreal Zone Permafrost Thaw Kettle Hole Boreal Peatlands 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Campbell ID, Campbell C, Yu Z, Vitt DH, Apps MJ. Millennial-scale rhythms in peatlands in the western interior of Canada and in the global carbon cycle. Quatern Res. 2000;54:155–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Glaser PH, Janssens JA. Raised bogs in eastern North America: transitions in landforms and gross stratigraphy. Can J Bot. 1986;64:395–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Glaser PH, Wheeler GA, Gorham E, Wright Jr HE. The patterned peatlands of the Red Lake peatland, northern Minnesota: vegetation, water chemistry, and landforms. J Ecol. 1981;69:575–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gore AJP, editor. Mires – swamp, bog, fen and moor, Ecosystems of the world 4B – regional studies. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 1983.Google Scholar
  5. Halsey LA, Vitt DH, Bauer IE. Peatland initiation during the Holocene in continental western Canada. Clim Change. 1998;40:315–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Loisel J, Yu Z, Beilman DW, et al. A database and synthesis of northern peatland soil properties and Holocene carbon and nitrogen accumulation. Holocene. 2014;24:1028–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. MacDonald GM, Beilman DW, Kremenetski KV, Sheng YW, Smith LC, Velichko AA. Rapid early development of circumarctic peatlands and atmospheric CH4 and CO2 variations. Science. 2006;314:285–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Turetsky MR, Wieder RK, Vitt DH. Boreal peatland C fluxes under varying permafrost regimes. Soil Biol Biochem. 2002a;34:907–12.Google Scholar
  9. Turetsky MR, Wieder RK, Halsey L, Vitt DH. Current disturbance and the diminishing peatland carbon sink. Geophys Res Lett. 2002b;29(11). doi:10.1029/2001GLO14000.Google Scholar
  10. Vile MA, Scott KD, Brault E, Wieder RK, Vitt DH. Living on the edge: the effects of drought on Canada’s western boreal forest. In: Tuba Z, Slack NG, Stark LR, editors. Bryophyte ecology and climate change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2011. p. 277–97.Google Scholar
  11. Vitt DH, Chee W-L. The relationships of vegetation to surface water chemistry and peat chemistry in fens of Alberta, Canada. Vegetatio. 1990;89:87–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Vitt DH, Slack NG. An analysis of the vegetation of Sphagnum-dominated kettle-hole bogs in relation to environmental gradients. Can J Bot. 1975;53:332–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Vitt DH, Wieder RK. The structure and function of bryophyte-dominated peatlands. In: Goffinet B, Shaw AJ, editors. Bryophyte biology. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2008. p. 357–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Vitt DH, Halsey LA, Zoltai SC. The bog landforms of continental western Canada, relative to climate and permafrost patterns. Arct Alp Res. 1994;26:1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Vitt DH, Halsey LA, Nicholson BJ. The Mackenzie River basin wetland complex. In: Fraser LH, Keddy PA, editors. The world’s largest wetlands: ecology and conservation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2005. p. 218–54.Google Scholar
  16. Wieder RK, Vitt DH, editors. Boreal peatland ecosystems. Berlin/Heidelberg/New York: Springer; 2006.Google Scholar
  17. Wieder RW, Scott KD, Kamminga K, Vile MA, Vitt DH, Bone T, Xu B, Benscoter BW, Bhatti JS. Post-fire carbon balance in boreal bogs of Alberta, Canada. Glob Chang Biol. 2008. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01756.x.Google Scholar
  18. Yu Z, Beilman DW, Jones MC. Sensitivity of northern peatland carbon dynamics to Holocene climate change. In: Baird AJ, Belyea LR, Comas X, Reeve AS, Slater LD, editors. Carbon cycling in northern peatlands. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union; 2009. p. 55–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant Biology and Center for EcologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA

Personalised recommendations